The house was almost like a mausoleum in its perfect silence. Had it not been for the
doors opening intermittently to let in a quiet army of housemaids in succession, one
might have thought it to be deserted. Despite the abundance of plants and a well-kept
lawn, a desolation hung like a shroud over it. The windows looked permanently
shuttered, the doors closed. No one had ever seen the lady of the house hanging around,
chatting like the other ladies around. No neighbors looked in with tid-bits of homemade
delicacies or gossip. Even animals stayed away. Birds kept a distance even as they
flocked at the neighbor’s water-tank, strewn with bread crumbs, the strays didn’t hang
around. The house reeked of the two people living inside only and only for themselves.
It wasn’t entirely unusual that it smelt also of sickness.
The master - bedroom was thickly curtained and the mixed stench of medicines and stale
orange juice hung in the air. There was no movement in the room except for the silent
images flickering on the mute TV screen. And what appeared to be the huge mound in
the center of the king-size bed was actually Seema.
Resting after another bout of sudden illness.
All this silence was in honor of her, the lady of the house, who couldn’t bear noise when
she was down with yet another inexplicable illness. Even the doctors were flabbergasted
at how illnesses were attracted to her as flies towards sweets. Or garbage heaps.
She was on first name terms with every doctor in the town and each of them had given up
trying to find the cause of her frequent bouts of illness. They came and went on their
own, with or without any assistance from them.
But everybody knew that when thus indisposed, she hated to be disturbed.
Akhil, her husband of ten years, opened the door as silently as possible, not wanting to
disturb the ailing wife. He tiptoed into the room and leaned over to see if Seema was
"Oh, you’re back at last," she whispered and struggled to sit up.
"Don’t get up, dear, keep lying…" Akhil gently plumped up the pillows for her, "how
"Better," Seema sighed while Akhil waited for details which he knew would come
without much prompting.
"If only somebody could tell me the reason for these migraines," Seema’s eyes brimmed
over, "or the terrible stomach aches."
"Do you think they could be connected?" she asked, sinking back on the pillows.
Since it was a purely rhetorical question, Akhil managed to bypass it with a shrug.
How long could one remain interested in ailments? It had been longer than he could
remember since Seema started suffering. Come to think of it, it had almost been as long
as they’d been married. At first he’d been genuinely concerned and taken her to every
specialist and got every imaginable test done but the migraines and stomach aches would
just not go.
With a long suffering air she’d hobble through home and her job as a teacher but
conscience smote Akhil’s soft heart when he looked at her sallow complexion and
progressively darkening circles under her eyes. He wouldn’t have been human had he not
requested her to leave her job and rest at home. He was there to earn, he had said.
Seema had agreed reluctantly but the quick restoration of her peach and milk complexion
and luminescent eyes had convinced Akhil that he’d done the right thing.
The relief was short lived.
Despite her being at home since then, her insomnia, her migraines and her vague aches
and pains kept recurring with unerring regularity, making him feel like a heel if he had to
ask her to do even the smallest thing for him.
Gradually Akhil learnt to fend for himself.
How wise mother had been, thought Seema with a surge of gratefulness towards her late
mother. ‘See which way the winds blow, and then change the direction’ she’d advised
when Seema had come home for the first time after her marriage. And Seema, smart that
she was, had always acted on it.
Her mother-in-law was nice, but still, a ‘Mother- In-Law’ - a woman, and hence, an
enemy. A woman who would understand the ploy of another one. Seema’s mild but
regular complaints continued till Akhil had been forced to choose. And the old lady was
dispatched to Akhil’s elder brother’s.
Seema was ‘caring’ enough to bring Ma home for two months every year, the lady, after
all, still owned a huge property in the village. Besides, this gave her a legitimate excuse
to give the entire house a face-lift in order welcome her dear ‘Maaji’ back. It was only
later Akhil noticed the new things and marveled at the way she got everything she’d
coveted herself in the latest issues new ‘Home-décor’!
However, somehow, those two were also her sickest months in the year. And the icing on
the cake would be the disappearance of the battalion of maids at such times.
"Oh ma, leave it ma, I’ll do it," she’d wheeze, the inhaler prominent in her manicured
hands, trying ineffectively to snatch the broom from old lady.
And so it would continue through the entire tenure of the lady’s visit – chores left undone
till the old lady started doing them; Seema’s frantic entreaties to leave everything to her
and her dramatic but inevitable coughing or fainting fit. The poor ma-in-law would get
so fed up at the end of her two month rigorous imprisonment that she looked forward to
her release and would thankfully escape to older son at the end of her sentence.
"Curse my illness" Seema would touch ma’s feet in a teary farewell, "you couldn’t even
rest properly, ma."
Ma would smile wryly and refrain from saying anything. It wouldn’t be any use, Seema
had won the game, set and match.
Seema would recover miraculously almost the day her ma-in-law left. She threw herself
wholeheartedly in the kitchen, pampered her husband with great food and by nightfall
managed to wrangle a luxury-vacation to get over ‘all that insipid food we had to make
for maaji’. They’d, or rather she’d enjoy a wonderful trip and then promptly fall sick
again on return. Unable to get up from the bed she spent her time watching ‘boring’
DVDs, just to have something to take her mind off the infernal pain.
Just somehow she managed to attend the three kitty-party meetings every week, this was
essential to keep Akhil and her socially alive.
If Akhil saw any pattern, he didn’t complain.
It was okay, he guessed, poor Seema wasn’t destined to be perfectly healthy for long.
He too had learnt to change the directions of the wind.
He picked up his office phone and dialed the number with a practiced finger, "So, 4
O’clock today?" he smiled into the phone, "wait till you see what I got you from
"Make sure it is nicer than what you got for your toxic wife!" Rita’s silvery laughter
tinkled at the other end.
It was the same laughter which had first drawn Akhil to her, in the pub, where he had
been whiling away his evening, delaying and dreading returning to Seema’s health
bulletins, that rainy day, ten years ago.
By: Madhumita Gupta
Name : Ms. Madhumita Gupta
Age: 45 years
Location: Rajasthan , India
Occupation: Freelance writer, teacher.
A mother, writer and teacher, I’ve been freelancing for more than a decade for most of
the national dailies and periodicals like The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, Mail
Today, Femina, Filmfare etc. Fiction, for grown ups and children are a passion however,
and I try to contribute as frequently as possible to magazines and websites.
My proudest achievements are the publication of my book ‘Tuntuni’s tales retold’ (Rupa
& co.) and my stories awarded and published by CBT (four years running), Tinkle, South
Asian women’s Forum and Femina National Fiction Contest.
Postal Address: 27, Shanti Kunj
Contact No.: 0144- 2334624